Unmuted: Part One

This is the first of a three-part blog series.

I'm Not 'On Mute'

Dear Courageous Leaders,

I don’t get through a workday now without having heard in multiple meetings, “You’re on mute.” It’s gotten so comically-common-place-ridiculous, like the cellular service commercial poking fun at, “Can you hear me now?” Many of us chuckle (on mute or not), when the first meeting participant commits the act that instigates a chorus of, “You’re on mute.”

I’ve been reflecting on how many times in the past I’ve put myself ‘on mute.’ They are generally times fueled by fears, of vulnerability, of rejection, or my insecurities. I used to spend moments, even hours, agonizing over my choices to speak or stay silent. These days, as I feel the growing importance of giving voice to ideas, affirmations, and statements motivated by desires to create a more just future, a more humanizing world, I’m listening deeply to the unspoken narrative of my fears. As Brené Brown might say, I’m paying attention to “the story I’m telling myself.”

Sometimes, the story I’m telling myself is, “I might be wrong” or “I might say something that nobody agrees with.”  Other times, the story I’m telling myself is “I’m not ‘qualified’ to speak to this” or “I might offend someone.” Occasionally, and just often enough to keep the taste of the fear in my mouth for a time, the story I’m telling myself is, “Voicing this might derail my career aspirations or put my job on the line.”

Through reflecting on these stories I tell myself, I continue to learn about myself and others. More frequently, I am finding the courage to delve deeper, to risk the more intimate, laden-with-vulnerability conversations, with colleagues, friends, and family. I find that I am creating more space for asking questions, asking for feedback on my thinking, and listening. And, though this change is still deeply uncomfortable for me, I am taking more risks to share from my own, intensely personal thoughts, emotional experiences, and memories—inspired by the connections I can make when I do.

The last few months, I have been having these amazing flows of consciousness, where the ideas in my head, sometimes seemingly divergent, come together in this cataclysmic arrangement of brilliant insights (according to me). In a work meeting, if I dare give voice to these thoughts, it can be followed by a moment of silence.

While on the one hand, I could interpret this moment of silence as a proper and worthy awe-filled pause during which my colleagues are absorbing the sheer magnificence of the thought I have just articulated, I think it could just as likely be the awkward, clearing of throat, don’t-look-directly-at-her-as-we-process-how-to-politely-respond, someone-put-her-on-mute, kind of silence.

Though I still feel the discomfort of these moments, thinking about the ways I risked my vulnerability, I don’t agonize over them anymore. I am embracing the journey I am on right now to understand myself and my thinking. I do need to listen to those in my life I trust to give me “real” feedback. I do need to pay attention to when what I say causes hurt in others and bring humility to examining how this reshapes me and my voice in the future. But I also need to trust my voice. What I went through a year ago has shaped me, given me new insights, wisdom, and generated much creative and reflective thinking. 

So, as I celebrated my one-year “I’M ALIVE” anniversary, I wanted to mark its importance by naming this transformation. What popped into my head was the tantalizing, fierce, determined, mischievous, and joyful notion of:

“I’m NOT ‘on mute’ anymore.”

Still walking my learning journey,


P.S. PART TWO: MY BODY “OFF-MUTE” comes out next week. Join me in the learning journey.

In reflection:

What are the stories you tell yourself?

6 thoughts on “Unmuted: Part One”

  1. Well said sister. I’ve sat “on mute” many of times, letting my own intimidation and comfort of others, not allow me to be heard. We must continue to champion our voices and perspectives because we may be the only one at the table that has the opportunity to be that voice.

  2. Well, expressed! We are often more silent in the presence of our work peers than with others. Or at least we’re choosing our words carefully so as to be accepted/acceptable. And these are the times the world may most need to hear what is on our minds and in our hearts. It took me a long time to speak up in faculty meetings when I held a thought or idea outside the main-stream. But once I did, I’ve never been sorry for going there.
    I have a quote in my desk drawer from Martin Luther King, Jr. that speaks to this–
    Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that really matter.

    Thank you, Erica, for speaking your truth.

    1. I am going to add that quote to the collection I have on my laptop cover. I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I voice something to a group that may be “outside the main-stream,” or even when I share something with one person I respect and care about, worried that it might not be well-received.

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